Pandemic stalls but doesn’t squash DeVos Place hotel idea

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the pandemic wanes, optimism that a 20-story, 400-room hotel could go up over a DeVos Place is on the rise.

“We could be in the ground sometime late next year… maybe be ready to go in 2024, 2025,” said Doug Small, president and CEO of the Experience Grand Rapids.

Small chairs the task force looking into the feasibility of placing a large, convention-style hotel at DeVos Place Convention Center in downtown Grand Rapids.

The task force was set to meet with the Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority in March 2020.

“We were prepared at that point, as a task force, to deliver our findings to the CAA board, and tell them that we felt the feasibility of doing this hotel project was very, very strong and that they should look at it,” Small said.

The pandemic canceled that meeting, but not the behind-the-scenes discussions.

“Instead of pushing stop and rewinding, we’re just pushing pause,” Small said. “There are no promises. We haven’t set a meeting date yet to get back together. In the meantime, we’ve got plenty of hotels to sell.”

But not the kinds of hotels that attract larger conventions.

The downtown inventory has grown by eight hotels, expanding from 1,300 to 2,500 rooms, since Small took over at Experience Grand Rapids, the group charged with attracting convention business to the city, in 2008.

A feasibility study backed what meeting planners have been telling Experience Grand Rapids: If you want to attract bigger conventions, give conventioneers more options.

“While we have 12 hotels downtown, and they’re great hotels, they don’t want to spread their groups out that much and they don’t have to because our competitors have three or four hotels that can do that for them,” Small said. “They don’t have to get involved in 12 contracts, they can get involved in four contracts. It makes their lives easier and the delegates like to be close to the meeting sites.”

A 400-room hotel at DeVos Place would fit that requirement. A 2018 estimate put the cost of a such a hotel at around $97 million. Those figures have not been revisited.

The Convention/Arena Authority, which is funded through various events at both venues and the county’s hotel motel tax, would likely build the hotel and let a management company run it, the same way it built and operates DeVos Place and Van Andel Arena.

But why should a publicly funded authority be in the hotel business? One reason is there isn’t a lot of available space for a large hotel close to DeVos Place. The proposed hotel would sit in what’s now a little-used space on the south end of complex.

Small said the idea follows what many cities competing for convention business are already doing.

“Counties and cities around the country are backing the bonds to build these hotels to protect the assets that they already have,” Small said. “We feel we could double the number of citywide conventions annually over what we currently do. If we could do that, we’ll pay down that hotel in a hurry.”

Another boost to the idea is the fact that the revived Grand Action pro-development group has placed a hotel at DeVos Place on its priority list.

“You just have to look at (Grand Action’s) history and most everything they’re involved with has turned out beautifully for our community, and selfishly for our industry,” Small said.

Small says most experts predicts post-pandemic convention business will return to 2019 levels by 2024. The concern is growing that business, which impacts the local economy to the tune of about $200 million per year, beyond 2024.

“Our destination asset study that we did in 2016 stated that this hotel is a necessity if we’re going to get to the next level as a convention city,” Small said. “We have not lost sight of that and we won’t.”

One of the most industrialized cities in America is turning into a hot spot for redevelopers. See the details of four multimillion-dollar projects on Muskegon Lake.

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